July 26, 2006

Improving Food Security in Africa

Posted in Africa, Poverty at 5:26 pm by greatparanoiac

seed_fair.jpgOxfam issued a report on Monday calling for a review of current efforts to end hunger in Africa. The report, “Causing Hunger: An Overview of the Food Crisis in Africa,” argues that emergency assistance is usually inefficient, arrives too late and fails to addresses the causes of hunger and food security.

InterPress Service News Agency has a news story  on Oxfam’s new report. It states that humanitarian assistance to Africa increased from $946 million (US) in 1997 to just over $3 billion (US) in 2003. Nonetheless, there have been food crises during the past few months in the Sahel region, Southern Africa, and Horn of Africa.

According to the report, donors doubt the ability of United Nations agencies to administer aid effectively. This constitutes one of the reasons for insufficient or late funding of U.N. appeals. Nonetheless, Oxfam believes a one billion dollar commitment by donors to the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund is key to “quicker and more equitable assistance.”

The news story doesn’t state why Oxfam believes a billion dollar commitment to the UN Emergency Fund would be key to more equitable assistance. Is donor money in this central fund distributed to international NGOs and not UN agencies? Second–wouldn’t Oxfam or other NGOs experience the same difficulties in administering aid as UNDP, FAO or UNICEF? Better yet, how do international NGOs administer funds marked for emergency assistance differently than UN agencies?

The report also highlights a disproportionate emphasis on in-kind food-aid donations:

“Although food aid can play an important role in emergencies and save lives, it should not be viewed as the inevitable default response to food insecurity, particularly where poverty is the main cause of hunger.  Other innovative solutions — such as cash transfers, food vouchers or cash-for-work programmes — may be more appropriate.” 

The agency cites the case of seed fairs in Zimbabwe, where farmers have been given vouchers to purchase seeds. This has provided them with the option of buying seeds for crops that are hardier than others, giving farmers a better chance of reaping a harvest under difficult conditions. 

This is a good point–but with the inflation rate in Zimbabwe at 1200% we have to look at the country’s economic policies in relation to ending hunger. Even if a farmer has good crops as a result of these seed fairs–how can he ever sell his produce at price that’s fair or competitive if food prices in Zimbabwe have gone up ten-fold?

The Oxfam report makes recommendations for tackling the root causes of hunger, such as  increasing long-term investment in the development of rural areas to a minimum of 10 percent of government spending. This target was set for African states by the African Union.

Chris Rowan wrote a good piece on the blog Harowo earlier this month on the food crises in Africa. He cites statements from Justice Africa and International Food Policy Research Institute saying that poor governance is a major issue in many African countries, and one that has serious repercussions for long-term food security.

“No African country has ever refused to go to war (many of them unjust ones) because the IMF/World Bank, Western NGO’s or the so-called donors say there is no money. It is only when it comes to feeding our peoples, educating our children, building roads and hospitals, creating jobs and looking after the welfare of our peoples that our governments plead lack of resources, ” said Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem the director of Justice Africa. 

Getting back to the Oxfam report. It also makes other recommendations for dealing with the causes of hunger.  This includes calls for greater African and international efforts in support of peace, an end to the dumping of subsidised agricultural exports by the developed world that undercuts sales of local produce, and increased funding for HIV/AIDS programmes.

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